Developmental nicotine exposure (DNE) impacts central respiratory control in neonates born to smoking mothers. We previously showed that DNE enhances the respiratory motor response to bath application of AMPA to the brainstem, although it was unclear which brainstem respiratory neurons mediated these effects (Pilarski and Fregosi, 2009). Here we examine how DNE influences AMPA-type glutamatergic neurotransmission in the pre-Bötzinger complex (pre-BötC) and the hypoglossal motor nucleus (XIIMN), which are neuronal populations located in the medulla that are necessary for normal breathing. Using rhythmic brainstem slices from neonatal rats, we microinjected AMPA into the pre-BötC or the XIIMN while recording from XII nerve rootlets (XIIn) as an index of respiratory motor output. DNE increased the duration of tonic activity and reduced rhythmic burst amplitude after AMPA microinjection into the XIIMN. Also,DNEled to an increase in respiratory burst frequency afterAMPAinjection into the pre-BötC. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings of XII motoneurons showed that DNE increased motoneuron excitability but did not change inward currents. Immunohistochemical studies indicate that DNE reduced the expression of glutamate receptor subunits 2 and 3 (GluR2/3) in the XIIMN and the pre-BötC. Our data show that DNE alters AMPAergic synaptic transmission in both the XIIMN and pre-BötC, although the mechanism by which this occurs is unclear. We suggest that the DNE-induced reduction in GluR2/3 may represent an attempt to compensate for increased cell excitability, consistent with mechanisms underlying homeostatic plasticity.
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